Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Beyond expectations: Derry does it all.

Last week I went home to the town where I grew up, Derry, Northern Ireland. I was a bit nervous. My childhood experiences were of a heavily Catholic bias, so I worried that bringing my novel home was going to be a challenge, what with its mistaken identity as ‘lesbian erotica’. (Yes, there are lesbians in it, and apparently I ‘write good sex’, but that is secondary to the plot).

Luckily, Derry Central Library had more sense and were only too happy to organise a promotional
event which we timed to coincide with Derry’s 21st Pride march.

I did work my butt off on social media, making lots of contacts and associated plans in the weeks before. But I did not foresee how beautifully things would pan out.

We flew in early on Tuesday, filling the morning with a Game of Thrones location hunt, which was a lovely way to see some beautiful parts of the Antrim Coast and keeping Beloved Aspie very happy. The afternoon was about confirming appointments and chilling with my sister.

Wednesday was a bit manic: an interview with the Derry Journal by the insightful Ellen Barr, then on to a radio interview with Radio Foyle’s Mark Patterson (you can have a wee listen to that on my website www.sineadgillespie.co.uk). While there, I sat in on the interviewee before me, a lady I hadn’t met or spoken to, who now lives in Morocco and was on her annual trip to Ireland. About an hour later is where the magic began to happen…

We’d gone into town and were having a wander around the Craft Village and the wee gift shop, and who was there but this same lady, Rachel. We had a chat and she asked why I had been at the Radio Station as she hadn’t heard it as she was leaving. I told her about the book and she said, “You must go up to Bedlam and talk to Jenni in the bookshop there. Tell her I sent you.”

Well, nothing ventured…Bedlam is an indoor market of vintagey, crafty stuff, with Little Acorns Bookstore at the back. I found Jenni, introduced myself, and within moments she took books for stock and invited me to come back and do a chair signing. She has two very old wooden chairs: one for visiting and local authors, the other for actors. And they are scribbled all over with famous names! (check out Little Acorns Bookstore on Facebook).

That evening we went to see a play called ‘Pits and Perverts’, based on the true story of the Gay and Lesbian groups in London who rallied to raise funds for the Welsh Miners striking against Thatcher’s harsh moves in the 80s. It’s a brilliant tale of overcoming prejudice: touching and funny in equal measure. While there, I met other Derry writers, the cast, Jenni again, and a woman I’d only communicated with via twitter and email, Shá Gillespie, who organises Foyle Pride. Quite a night!

Next evening was the biggie: the launch talk at the library, followed by a reading as part of the Pride event at Café Soul. I’d be lying if I said I had a crowd at the library. Tough thing is people say they will come and, for a million reasons, they don’t. I always recall the director I worked with on my one-woman show, when I asked, how small an audience before I don’t go on? He said, if there is one person in that room, you will perform. The point being, touching one life is worth more than touching none.

There was more than one! It was a lovely event, and I met up with women in Derry who think like me, and I’d lost track of that (there’s a novel about that in the long pipeline). And the Pride event was funny as I got to read some of the naughty bits to an appreciative audience. Nuff said. (Muff said? Donegal joke). 

So, skipping to Saturday and the Pride event itself –what a joy to see the 80ft rainbow banner carried through the centre of a city whose history is worn rife with prejudice, and even the policemen were smiling. 

And on this day, two bookstores took my book; I signed the chair and went home laughing.

Before we left, and after an interesting visit to Belfast which would be a blog in itself if I could work out how not to offend some, a third bookstore took me on.

What a turn-around. From my sad and low expectations that I would simply be rejected because I anticipated my subject matter to unacceptable: Derry did this this girl of hers proud. Big time. For the first time in too many years – I can’t wait to go back.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Proud of Pride

Last week was a bit mad.

I got a last minute opportunity to attend a writing workshop in Sussex that would lead to a reading in the Literature Tent at Brighton’s Pride. Too good to pass up, even if it meant driving up for a long weekend, driving back down to get Beloved Aspie through some minor surgery, then driving back up in holiday traffic to attend the event. That’s a seven hour round trip that became nine second time round.

It’s been six years since I lived in Brighton, and I’d completely forgotten how wonderfully crazy Pride makes the city. I came in on the train, from staying just outside, and the first thing I registered was the wide ranging age group, all in a party mood, some wildly dressed with feathers that touched the roof of the carriage. There were teen girls, middle aged women with groups of friends, old men, young men, and a bunch of teen lads who probably shouldn’t have had the beers they were drinking. But when one of them staggered in the aisle as the train jolted, his apology couldn’t have been more polite or sincere.

At Brighton Station we were met with police and barriers, and an old Buddhist friend who was in charge of operations to keep people travelling safely.

From then on it was smiles, and laughter and music and a general carnival feel as I made my way to Preston Park and the stages and events there.

The Literature Tent was delightfully busy with a whole range of work being read and shared. As members of the workshop, we got to read an individual piece first, then together offered a collaborative letter to Russia. It was just such fun to stand there with such diverse people and have a moment of truly believing in equality. 

Feel free to call me naïve – but in a world where I feel I am constantly battling for recognition for people with autism to be treated equally -  I am so impressed with individuals who take huge steps to be themselves and respected for it. And don’t forget, things are very different in other parts of the country: all of the UK is not cosmopolitan and attitudes fluctuate widely.

I will definitely be returning to Pride next year, in style! My face hurt from smiling so much and my heart was a whole lot lighter and more hopeful for being there.

And I got a t-shirt for Pride in Derry, N Ireland in a couple of weeks: ‘I can’t even think straight.’ True on so many levels.
www.butiloveyou.co.uk  @SineadGBoys

Friday, 27 June 2014

Conceptual Art: Artist vs Writer

On my mission to spend quality time with Beloved Aspie (BA), yesterday’s beautiful sunshine took us to Hestercombe House and Gardens in a glorious corner of Somerset. The finale of the visit was a look around the Gallery. (That’s a lie – the finale was a mega chocolate brownie in the caff before going home). 

Anyway…you need to know that I have been an Art student, studying Fine Art and Art History, and almost went to Art College instead of University and Law. As such, I can find an appreciation for most things though I own my own tastes.

And in fairness, BA has his own posters and prints that he likes, though they are highly likely to involve Dr Who, Superheroes, or cats, and he has a keen eye for sparkly gems.

Off we go to the Gallery rooms, BA dutifully appraising the catalogue notes and locating the exhibits. One was a fairly chunky bronze of a pair of binoculars; another was a wooden stile painted bright blue; another was a spade, hanging on a wall, made of beautiful wood; another a swarm of bees masquerading as a mantel piece clock. In a separate room was Tracey Emin’s ‘there is another place’, a neon tube of writing on the wall.

BA was impressively discreet about his misgivings.
We embarked on a conversation with the volunteer invigilator who told us this was their first ‘modern’ exhibition and as such, she’d had to do a lot of research so that she could talk to visitors, who had some interesting comments. This led to a discussion of conceptual art.

The problem for me, I told her, is that some of the finished pieces are so far removed from the original concept that they are not, of themselves, interesting or beautiful to look at. I fail to see the point if the object offers no attraction and I have to read an essay about its meaning.

Then it got me thinking. If I applied the same idea to writing novels, how would that work?

I could spend my months in advance doing copious research, writing up notes, creating my characters, mulling over the plot in my head, then, when it’s ready I could write my novel in 4 words

…but I love you
And leave the reader to work out the rest.

Never mind flash fiction or the 50 word story – let’s unleash a new form – the conceptual novel. I’m sure I could write a few of those, in fact I’m just working on ‘The’.